tv [untitled] March 22, 2012 11:30pm-12:00am EDT
community, thank you for the invitation to be here today and testify on behalf of the american legion. and about the president's proposed budget for the department of veterans affairs. american legion is grateful on the increase in the budget to deal with the needs of our nation's veterans. for those who have earned the weight of war. we must always remember that a promise made is a promise that must be kept. we find like-minded allies recognize the importance and duty to ensure we're keeping the promise to american's veterans. chairman murray, you know the importance of holding government to the promise made to our veterans. the american legion in washington state knows how tirelessly you fought at the army hospital. and in the interest of financial savings. the american legion also knows how hard it is for this committee to have fought the
v.a. to ensure hard work on passing caregivers act and not to narrow -- sorry, madam chair. and not loss implementation. we're here today because you've shown the willingness to help the needs. and to fight to make sure we keep this in to the process. department of veterans affairs is dedicated to benefits of those who served. the president's budget is ambitious and an increase of size especially when a government must be seeking ways of saving money. it's a positive step forward for our veterans. the american legion is concerned there are areas where a lack of foresight or faulty planning may lead to v.a. to default on the promise to our veterans. we cannot allow this to happen. one of the greatest shortfalls is a proposed budget for major and minor construction. while we're pleased to see the needed projects such as mental health services building and see it moving forward, when viewed
as a whole the construction budget fails to meet the needs of the internal strategic plan. provides v.a. with a ten year plan to address the most critical infrastructure needs. the american legion was concerned that under the current b budget figures, it would take close to 40 years for the needs of ten year plan to be met. we've all heard recently on the importance of investment and infrastructure. these are the kind of bills you pay for now or you pay for later. when infrastructure is given the short end up front, it becomes more expensive at the back 37 yes these are serious needs and require billions of dollars in funding. and these billions of dollars are those we cannot afford not to spend. we cannot condone veterans to be placed in ageing facilities that cannot meet their most basic of needs. if we fail it now, we'll break the promise once again to our
veterans. to reach necessary funding levels not only concerns but must contend with this budget. we must also look closely to the v.a. it intends to spend their money and make sure it's not based on smoke and mirrors but on real money that will be there when veterans need it most. ambitious prospects in the budget for a medical care collections fund, mccf, are based on premises. the american legion fears that this will now bear fruit in the real world of 2013. setting aside concerns that the oig found in the process while cost cutting for the v.a., over $110 million annually were not collected. v.a.'s new budget proposes to build private insurance at the preferred provider rate. rather than the current medicare rate. this change billing reflects 90% of the proposed increase in this area of the budget.
frankly, this has never been authorized before. and even if authorized, the v.a. will be hard pressed to meet these budget targets. when this fails to generate the necessary revenue, v.a. will be forced to find savings in the budget. that means more broken promises to our veterans. finally we're concerned about the overall budget prospect as a whole in these turbulent times. surely this committee's aware of the pessimism of the american people. regarding the ability of congress to come to terms and to pass a complete budget. while we acknowledge that many work tirelessly to break these locks and frustration of the people. when we cannot reach these decisions, continued resolutions at half measures make for uncertain planning. while a vast appropriations cause relief, there are problems that linger.
operating budget that the government moves month to month. questions remain about the v.a.'s protection of sequestration and whether this too will suffer a cut of 2%. despite the seeming protection from previous interpretation of budget controls. v.a. planners need a stable environment to ensure seamless benefits for the veterans they serve. more importantly veterans need to see this for themselves. chairman murray, that concludes my report. and since we won't be taking questions right now, thank you. and you senator burr, for allowing me to be here. >> madam chairman, on behalf, pleased to be here today for fiscal year 2013. advanced appropriation for 2014. i'll limit to concerns that are in the budget request.
first let me say up front we appreciate the increase that the administration has provided for in its budget request. that being said, we have real concerns as addressed also by the committee members here about the impact sequestration may have. we find it absurd that more than six months after the budget control act was passed there's still no definitive position on whether particular health care programs are protected from sequestration. i think the committee and all the members of congress have made it clear and i think it's time for a final decision to be made. with regards to some spiecific issues in the budget request, we echo concerns about medical care collections and the roller coaster ride that has experienced in the recent years. we also agree with the concerns that were raised about perceived management and program improvements and efficiencies. whether the savings were realized, the impact of not realizing the savings may have on the delivery of health care.
probably the largest or the single biggest concern that we have, however, is with a particular disclosure in the president's budget that outlines what they have said is approximately a $3 billion excess in resources that were provided for fiscal year 2012 and about $2 billion in excess for 2013. this fact sort of begs the question, how can the administration clearly say they have $3 billion in excess resources for this fiscal year with fully seven months of the year left to go? we all hear the stories about shortages and staffing and this and those questions were raised earlier and all those things. it boggles the mind we suddenly have this excess resources. not a small pot of money. we're talking about 5% of the v.a. budget. particularly troubling in light of the fact the v.a. could potentially face a cut of 2% under sequestration. so we would encourage the committee and all members of
congress to really investigate this and get to the bottom of this. this single fact could pose a bigger problem for the v.a. in this delivery of care than any other issue the v.a. is facing in the coming years. this year and the coming years. with regards to fiscal year 2014 advanced appropriation, i would highlight a couple problems we have. i would point to the fact that it's a substantial increase projected for 2014. this is not unlike some of the comments you made about the growth in administrative function within vha. at the same time, advanced appropriation provides for a very substantial decrease in medical facilities. while i understand that some of that is based on the assumption they will transfer a certain amount of money and fte from medical facilities into medical services, it also is contingent on a cut of almost having that account. i think given a lot of discussion in recent years about the impact of funding on maintenance and the effect it's having on facilities, the committee should certainly be
interested in looking into that further. and i know my colleague from the vfw will probably touch on this as well. and so with that, i'll leave -- i'll conclude my statement. i'll take any questions you may have. >> thank you. >> ranking member burr, thank you. on behalf of the disabled american veterans and coauthor of the independent budget i'm pleased to be here on behalf of our 1.4 million members on our views and recommendations for the independent budget for fiscal year 2013 as it relates to veterans benefit programs, judicial review, and benefits administration. as you know we're in our third year of vba's transform of their clims processing system into a modern digital system. over the next year we'll begin to see if those strategies to transform the people, processes, and technologies will result in a cultural shift away from speed
and production into a business culture of quality inaccuracy. which to us is the only way to get backlog of claims under control. although we've been very pleased with vba's increasing partnership and collaboration with vso stake holders, we urge this committee to -- taking place throughout this year. perhaps the most important initiative as you know is the veterans benefits management system or vbms which is scheduled to begin its rollout nationally in june of this year with final completion of the rollout in late 2013. so as vba works to complete perfect and deploy this vital new i.t. system, it's crucial that resources are provided. we do note that the budget for vbms drops down from $148 million in 2012 to $128 million in fiscal year 2013. while we don't know the reason
for the dxz in budget, we cannot emphasize the need. we hope this committee will thoroughly exam whether that level is sufficient also. in order to sustain vba's efforts, recommends maintaining staff levels in business lines. given the large increases in claims processors over the past couple years, we believe vba should be training new and existing employees with an emphasis on quality and accuracy to make sure claims are done right the first time. we note that the vocational rehabilitation and employment budget service proposal does request funding for approximately 150 new counselors. designated for the expansion of the integrated evaluation system and the success on campus program. we fully support both of these increases and these programs.
in order to reach rehab's target of having 1 counselor for 125 veterans. to establish this. additionally the independent budget is recommending a staffing increase at the board of appeals. although the board is authorized to have 144 employees, it's fiscal 2012 only supported 522. and for 2013 the budget would reduce that to 527. looking at the rising number of compensation claims, recommend that vba be provided sufficient funding for an authorized workforce of -- in fiscal year 2013 of 585 time employee equivale equivalent. to enact legislation to finally end the inequitable prohibition on all disabled veterans. and eliminate between the
survivors benefit plan and the dependents compensation for veterans widows and dependents. this concludes my statement. i'd be happy to answer any questions. >> thank you. >> good afternoon, senator burr. on behalf of vets and the coauthors of the ib, i welcome this time to share with you today. my main focus b will be the national cemetery administration. the most important obligation of the nca is to honor the memory, achievements, and sacrifices of our veterans who so nobly served in the force. obligate america to not only preserve but to rehabilitate and expand our national cemetery system as necessary to meet the needs of american veterans. these venerable and commemorative spaces are part of america's historic material
culture. they are museums of art and american history. they are fields of honor and hallowed grounds. and they deserve and require our most respectful stewardship. the sacred tradition of our national cemeteries began in 1862 when the earliest military gave yards were situated. and since that time, more than 3 million burials have taken place within the system. the nca maintains stewardship of 131 of our nations 147 national cemeteries as well as 33 soldiers lots which are currently located in 39 states and puerto rico. as of late 2010, there were more than 2,021 acres of landscape and arc tech chul features.
v.a. estimates that of the veterans alive today that approximately 14.4% of them will choose a national or state veterans cemetery as their final resting place. with the transition of an additional 1 million service members into veterans status over the next 12 months, this number is expected to continue rising until approximately 2017. in fy 2011, the nca which is the nation's largest cemetery system estimates that $31.49 million into the national shrine initiative in order to improve the appearance of our national cemeteries. in order to meet the demands for grave site maintenance and essential elements of cemetery operations, the ibbsos recommend $280 million for the nca's operations and maintenance budget in fy 2013 with an annual
increase of $20 million until the national shrine commitments operational standards and measures goals regarding height and alignment of headstones and markers as well as the appearance of grave sites are reached. finally, the ibbsos call on the administration and congress to provide the resources needed to meet the sensitive and critical nature of the nca's mission and to fulfill the nation's commitment to all veterans who have served their country so honorably and faithfully. i'll be happy to take any questions. >> thank you. ray, how are you? >> good. >> good. >> ranking member burr, on behalf of the 2 million veterans thank you for the opportunity to testify today. in partnership with the ibb, it's the -- i'll limit remarks
to that. every effort should make sure facilities are safe. since 2004 utilization in v.a. has grown to 121%. facility conditions have dropped from 81% to 71%. this is having an impact on the delivery of health care. to determine and monitor the conditional facilities, v.a. conducted a facilityco assessment or fca. these assessments include inspections of building systems such as electrical and architectural safety. the fca review team can grant a rating of an a to an f. a through c is a new condition, new facility, or average condition of a facility. an f means the condition of the facility requires immediate attention. to correct the deficiencies of the ds and fs, v.a. will need to invest nearly $10 billion. v.a. is requesting $400 million
for the partially construction projects in fy '13. leaving projects dating back to fiscal year '07. these projects include improving spinal cord injury centers, completing a poly trauma blind rehab and research facility, as well as expanding mental health facilities. this request is too low to support the ever-growing need of veterans. therefore, the ib partners require that congress provide funding of $2.8 billion to cover all major construction accounts. this will allow v.a. to complete all seismic corrections and mental health center and fund the four v.a. identified projects for fy '13. although v.a.'s funding requests are lower than the ib's requests, this will allow to fund 120 projects.
even though non-recuring is not through the construction account, it is critical. v.a. is requesting $770 million. but to keep pace with need and reduce the backlog, $2.1 billion in needed. the ib requiring this amount of money only pointing out that the actual need to reach v.a.'s -- that's the amount needed to reach v.a.'s strategic goals. gives v.a. the authority to lease land and buildings as long as the lease is consistent with v.a.'s mission. although enhanced lease can be used for a wide range of activities, the majority of these leases result in housing for homeless veterans and assisted living facilities. in 2013, v.a. has 19 buildings planned for enhanced use. this has expired and we
encourage co replan. ranking member, this concludes my testimony. i look forward to any questions. >> thank you, mr. kelley. mr. tarantino. is that correct? >> yes, it is. senator burr and members of the committee, thank you for allowing me to testify and represent the 200,000 members and supporters on the president's fiscal year 2013 budget request. my name is tom tarantino, i'm the policy director for iava. i began my career as an enlisted service and ending as a cavalry officer. though my uniform is now a suit and tie, i'm proud to work with this congress to have the backs of veterans. while iba is pleased that the v.a. needs increased resources to care for veterans of iraq and afghanistan, we believe that v.a. health care must be fully
funded to the level in the 2013 budget. even though the proposed budget does show a 4.5% increase over 2012, it is still $4 billion less than what the independent budget recommends. i'm also concerned that congress has not passed a regular budget in what actually is years. fortunately congress has maintained v.a. funding both current and advanced in continuing resolutions and appropriations bills. however, we are concerned that if this irregular budgeting process continues and the security that advanced funding is meant to provide for the health care may erode. when political concerns and dangerous threaten v.a., it's the veterans and service members that can least afford the burden that get the impact. we are at a critical juncture for veterans and service members. as the department shrinks, threatens the earned benefits like retirement and tricare.
planning to shed over 90,000 active duty service members over the next few years, the workload on the v.a. system is only going to increase. failing to fully fund the v.a. or appropriate the budget in advance will inflict pain and hardship on thousands of veterans. among the most useful programs administered are the v.a. programs. more than 700,000 veterans have used the post-9/11 g.i. bill to further their education, increase job skills, and secure employability. one of the single greatest successes of the g.i. bill is the subsequent inability of the v.a. and agencies to prevent fraud particularly in the rem of for-profit schools. recognizes that the majority of the for-profit schools provided invaluable resource for veterans who do not need or wish to pursue a traditional education. however, as pointed out in the independent budget, many for-profit schools are not
holding up their end. for example, for-profit schools receive more than a third of g.i. bill funds but accounting for less than a third of graduates. recommend a three prong approach that is necessary to solve this problem. first we must collect useful data on student and institutional success. without mandatory uniform data collection across the board, private, public, profit, not for profit. we will never be able to give students the tools to make the educational choices that meet their needs. we also need a clear, comprehensible, and easily accessible consumer education for veterans. having data on schools is useless unless we can present it to schools in a manner they can digest. this should include online methods of comparing schools and counseling for veterans. finally we have to ensure that the free and open market can
weed out poorly performing schools by changing the 90/10 rule to include and classify benefits as government funds. because they are. all of this must be executed with one goal in mind. that is to preserve the g.i. bill. preserving the integrity should be a goal for everyone on capitol hill. it benefits their entire community as a nation and the nation as a whole in the long run. like the post-world -- the post-9/11 g.i. bill -- i'm sorry. the original world war ii would rern $7 for even dollar that was spent on the program. like then, the post-9/11 g.i. bill is threatened by schools that their whole existence is separating veterans from their hard-earned benefits.
america's newest veterans also place a tough economy and serious employment challenges. the average unemployment rate was 12.1%. congress took bold action last year in passing the vow to hire heroes act and we thank this body for their work. we stand ready to enforce this law. we also hope that congress will continue to focus on the veterans who do not choose to go to the workforce but choose to go to school to get the job training they need. i thank you for your time and attention. >> thank you. and on behalf of all the members of the committee, i'd like to thank the entire panel for your willingness to be here. let me make every assurance to you, all your testimony is in their hands. make yourself available to all members of the committee for questions that will follow up this. i'd like to make a comments and
ask a question at the end. mr. tarantino, i agree with what you just said. that data is essential to our ability to evaluate what we're doing, but more importantly the effectiveness of what we're doing. i might throw a cautionary note out. not all individuals who leave active duty are after a degree. but most are after a career. and when you start looking at placement, you may find out that the assessment we make about one institution versus another institution is actually reversed. and those that maybe don't do a good job of providing a degree do a great job of providing the tools for a career. and i think that's where we've got to stay focused. many of you have heard me with our colleagues at the v.a. as i've questioned the need for focus to stay on delivering a product to a veteran.
and i will work with the secretary and his leadership team if they need plus ups in office or public relations or wherever it is. but the only way that i'll sit still is that i know that the core mission of the v.a. which is to deliver that benefit to the individual service members is being fulfilled. miss zumatto, you talked about the national cemeteries. i'll speculate. it's because he's doing a good job. it's because he understands what the mission is. and we've got work to do. i think he would be the first to admit it. but he's not losing focus of exactly what that threshold of accountability is going to be for him. and i appreciate you pointing that out. i think all of you have questions on sequestration. i have them.
one, i don't think this should have ever been anything we entered into. i think that congress is here to do our job. it's not to leave it up to a supercommittee or a group of individuals who then decide we'd rather punt the ball than throw it. i think that it's time for us to do our job. starts with doing a budget. required by law to do one annually. without a budget, it's hard to do appropriations bills. it's a very simple process. carl, you pointed out dollars that have been designated as not needed. $3 billion and $2 billion respectively. i have the same concern how in advance -- so far in advance we can identify that. and i think if you go back, all of you, to when we started working on advanced appropriations, it's one of the concerns that skeptics had that you'd have a plus up only to find out it wasn't needed to shift it somewhere else.
so i think the chairman is committed, as am i, to get to the bottom. work with the v.a., try to understand how this happened. and quite possibly talk about different ways to reprogram money. i know from a standpoint of the intelligence committee when an agency that's under our jurisdiction wants to reprogram money, they've got to get approval from us to reprogram that money. i think that's probably a wise thing. we'll look at any potential changes that need to be made. some of you mentioned and i'm sure all of you are concerned about construction and maintenance. i'll just make a personal observation. facilities are crucial to the access and the quality of care that our veterans receive in the future. we're in the 21st century and medicine is changing. i won't comment